Reflections on interning: taking the plunge into a placement year

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Back in my second year of university, the prospect of a placement year was brought to light. While it was already compulsory for most courses at my uni, it had never been an option for mine until then. My initial thought was “no, I can’t possibly postpone my studies for a year, what would I even do?” Besides my part-time retail job, studying was all I ever knew. The idea of stepping out of my comfort zone and taking the plunge into the ‘real world’ of work prematurely just seemed extremely daunting, plus my year were the guinea pigs, so I had no way of measuring the success of taking a year out.

Fast-forward six months and there I was starting my first day in the communications department of a beauty brand, still terrified and unsure of what a year out of uni would really mean for me. If I said it was an easy decision, I’d be lying. I knew there were benefits to gaining work experience, but honestly my choice was spurred on by the fact that I could live at home in London for a year (and therefore commute easily), I wanted to try out a particular career path, and quite simply (and rather embarrassingly) because all of my friends were doing one. I discussed it thoroughly with my family, friends and university staff. I would advise you seek any support available to you through your university if you are ever in a similar position, as it really helped. Finally convinced, I began applying for roles, but it wasn’t until I’d actually secured and started a job that I realised just how valuable the year out would be for me.

Though a latecomer to the application process, I was very lucky that I managed to receive a job offer from my first interview. I think my part-time job had helped, combined with my extra-curricular activities at college and my knowledge of the company and industry. As previously mentioned, my placement was at a beauty brand and I’d found the opportunity through my university’s career service though I’ve now found a range of other places to find industry-specific roles. I first had to get the placement confirmed by uni before accepting the offer and being assigned my placement advisor who provided support throughout the year.

As a communications intern, my time was divided into assisting the social media executive and the PR executive. I’m going to write in more detail about each experience, as one blog post wouldn’t do the roles justice. But reflecting on the placement generally, I think it was a massive learning curve for me where I had an insight into both the communications sector and what it’s like to work for a small company, helping out in various departments other than my own. For me, this was really useful as not only did I learn what I wanted from my future career but also what I didn’t want and I think that was just as valuable.

Almost two years and a lot of other interning experiences, later, I think taking a placement year was one of the best decisions I ever made. It has equipped me with a wealth of knowledge that university alone never could have. Some friends did their placement year abroad so were not only trying a new work opportunity but simultaneously experiencing a new culture and way of life completely. I even have one friend who secured another job, as a result of her placement, which she loved so much that she decided to stay on instead of coming back to uni. Besides making me jealous while I cry over my dissertation, I think the success she’s achieving is a great example of the possibilities that taking a placement can provide.

Personally, my placement provided me with the transferable skills to secure other internships and freelance work between finishing and returning to my final year. I can only hope that it does the same when I begin the dreaded grad-job search, though I’m certain I’ll be in a better position than I would have if I hadn’t taken the plunge. Overall, my placement allowed me to do some amazing things and meet some great people; I’m just so glad I took the risk and didn’t play it safe as I was so used to doing previously. In a job market where just a degree alone isn’t always enough, I think anyone who has the option to take a placement year, really should. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who asks, the prospects it offers just can’t be matched by a degree alone.

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